Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz, the national one-liner champ, was asked if it would be fair to characterize his mood in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl as somewhere between awful and rotten. He snorted, "That's like Custer saying, 'Well, they look like friendly Indians.' "
Indeed, for Holtz and his Razorbacks in their first bowl trip to Miami, it seemed to be the worst of times and the worst of times. What with getting little national respect despite a 10-1 season record (with their only loss being to Texas, Arkansas was ranked No. 6), suffering a season-long rash of injuries, and, finally, being stunned by misbehaving players, it seemed appropriate that when Holtz was asked how he was doing two days before the game he replied, "I'm one step short of suicide."
But, inexplicably, in a day of inexplicable games, the Hogs up and absolutely annihilated the proud Oklahoma Sooners (also 10-1, with a loss to the Longhorns) 31-6. In a sense, it was Oklahoma—Big Eight champ and No. 2-ranked nationally—that had done itself in. It wasn't as if the Sooners invented the fumble, but they brought it wide attention by losing 30 during the regular season, then in this final showcase against Arkansas by losing three more.
Heading into the game, the Razorbacks had one major problem: their offense wasn't named to the traveling squad. Just before Christmas, Holtz announced that three key black players—Running Back Ben Cowins (1,192 yards, 14 touchdowns), top Receiver Donny Bobo (22 catches, six touchdowns) and second-team Running Back Michael Forrest (310 yards, two touchdowns)—would be left home as punishment for an incident involving a woman in a dorm room. Then a lawyer stepped in on the players' behalf, a boycott by the team's blacks was threatened (it didn't materialize) and Arkansas morale was in the pits and sinking. At which time Holtz burned a hole in his new blue sweater. "Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel," Holtz said before he sent his sense of humor packing, "is an oncoming train." Then the game started and on the fourth play one of his best players, Safety Howard Sampson, broke his right forearm.
January 9, 1978
Still, Arkansas fans kept saying, "Oklahoma has got a lot, but we've got a little." The dual reference was to Oklahoma's flashy quarterback, Tom Lott, who on this occasion certainly was not too much for the Hogs, and to Steve Little, Arkansas' kicker who did, for sure, a lot to make it one beautiful night for his team with a field goal, four extra points and a third-down 63-yard quick kick that caught the Oklahoma defense napping.
The Sooners took the opening kickoff and a minute, 22 seconds later Billy Sims produced the first fumble. Arkansas recovered on the Oklahoma nine, and in two plays Roland Sales scored from a yard out. Deeper into the first quarter, the Sooners' Kenny King fumbled, the Hogs covered it and Sales promptly rambled 38 yards to the OU three. Quarterback Ron Calcagni subsequently took it in, and with the score 14-0 at the half, the heretofore jovial Sooners, who had come into the game 18-point favorites, had the look of death. In the third quarter, Little ho-hummed a 32-yard field goal. On the Razorbacks' next offensive series Sales went crazy, going 12 yards, then 38, then twisting for four and the score that made it 24-0. Oklahoma fumbled again—but you've heard all this before.
Sales was hugged by his mother afterward, and he shrugged, "It wasn't anything at all." Then he paused, grinned and said, "Yes, it was." It certainly was. The sophomore from Fort Worth, who had gained 399 yards in the regular season, ripped through the vaunted Sooner defense for two touchdowns and 205 yards, an Orange Bowl record and only 25 yards less than Oklahoma, the No. 1 rushing team in the nation, managed to total. Sales also was the game's leading receiver with four catches good for 52 yards.
It was only a year ago that Holtz was ending an unhappy less-than-one-season tour as coach of the New York Jets. "But at last I'm getting rid of my house up there," he said. A listener said it was nice he got it sold. "Sold? It's being repossessed." Holtz was laughing like there's no tomorrow. And certainly no yesterdays.